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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Pett Level and Rye Harbour Nature Reserve: a Great White Egret & a Spoonbill. 04.01.22

I started this walk at Cliff End (where Fairlight meets Pett Level), and walked to Winchelsea Beach, into the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve (Sussex Wildlife Trust). I took the train from Brighton to Hastings and then the Stagecoach 101 bus from Hastings Station to Cliff End (once an hour). From Rye Harbour I walked to Rye town station to get the train back to Brighton (changing at Hampden Park). When I started walking, at 11.20 at Cliff End it was about 7C and was sunny with some clouds, it then rained heavily; by the time I got the train back, at 16.47, it was only 3 degrees C.

On the train to Hastings I saw on the BIrdGuides App that Russian White Fronted Geese had been seen recently at the east of Pett Level; I didn't spot any, although there may have been some in the large flocks of Greylag Geese that I saw on Pett Level, as they are quite similar, but the Greylag Geese were too far off and too many to inspect each bird carefully. However, at the east of Pett Level, just as the settlement of Winchelsea Beach starts, I saw a Great White Egret; a very rare sighting, and in the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, in the New Salt, I saw a Spoonbill, another vert rare sighting, in exactly the same place that a saw a Spoonbill before, so it may have been the same Spoonbill

Walking along the seawall at Pett Level you can see out to sea, and over the levels and their pools. In the sea I saw a Great Crested Great; on the beach I saw a Turnstone; and in the field and pools of Pett Level I saw: Teal, Wigeon, Gadwalls, Mallards, Coots, Lapwings, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Curlew, Black-Tailed Godwits, Starlings, Carrion Crows, Little Egrets, Woodpigeons and a Great White Egret

In the pools and scrapes, and on the shingle and fields, of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, I saw Little Grebes, Carrion Crows, Shovelers, Teal, Wigeon, Shelducks, Cormorants, Oystercatchers, Redshanks, a Spoonbill, Dunnocks, and Blackbirds.

Google Maps - Satellite View; Cliff End to Rye Harbour - walking route in red.

All of the photographs are presented in chronological order.

Cliff End

It was high tide, but at low tide you can see see petrified remnants of a 5,000 year old forest. For more information see: 'Little known' about ancient Pett Level sunken forest - BBC News

World War Two defence structure, Tout Rock; Cliff End

For more information about the wartime defences see: Toot Rock – Pett Level Preservation Trust

Pett Level

For interesting information about the birds of Pett Level see the posts on Pett Level see the posts of RX birding: Pett Level | Birding Walks in RXland (

Lapwings over Pett Level

Black-Tailed Godwits

Herring Gulls; with Graylag Geese in the foreground

Curlew in flight

Lapwings, Herring Gulls and Greylag Geese

Curlew and Herring Gulls

Pett Level Beach - Great Crested Grebe

Lapwings and a Curlew

Robin in the reeds (Pett Pools)


I saw three of the wader from the Red List at Pett Pools on 04/01/22; and I frequently see Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and Whimbrel, and have seen Ruff (in season) at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve; Rye Bay is sight of great importance to waders

Lapwing remains our most numerous breeding wader, but numbers have declined by more than 50% since the 1960s. Numbers of Ringed Plover are also high relative to other red-listed waders, though this species has also declined sharply in recent decades and is highly vulnerable to disturbance on the shingle beaches where it breeds. Loss of suitable wetland habitat in the lowlands has driven declines of breeding Ruff, which is just about hanging on in the UK, and Black-tailed Godwit, which has recently seen its tiny breeding populations in England boosted by headstarting efforts. Despite an apparently stable winter population well in excess of 1 million individuals, Woodcock continues to decline steeply as a British breeding bird and remains the only UK red-listed wader that may legally be shot. Two of our rarest breeding waders nest almost exclusively in Shetland. The populations of these species, Whimbrel and Red-necked Phalarope, are extremely vulnerable in part due to their highly restricted range. Curlew, Whimbrel’s close relative, is a much more widespread bird, though declines of more than half since the 1970s have led to it being described as our most pressing conservation concern. Climate change is leading to habitat loss for many of our upland breeders, including Dotterel and Dunlin. The number of Dunlin spending the winter in the UK is down, too, perhaps because warming temperatures mean birds breeding in the northern Europe no longer need to migrate. This ‘short stopping’ has also been identified as possible driver of declines in the number of Purple Sandpiper spending the winter on our rocky shorelines. See less.


Egyptian Geese and Coots

To find out about these 17th century colonial imports to Norfolk, now naturalised across England see this fascinating article: Specieswatch: Egyptian goose | Birds | The Guardian

Greylag Geese, Lapwings and Herring Gulls

Little Grebe (Pett Pools)

Wigeon (Pett Pools)


Tufted Dick (Pett Pools)


Coots seem to flourish on Pett Level around the pools.

A group of Redshanks (with Herring Gulls and Greylag Geese in the background)


A Gadwall

Gadwalls don't breed in Sussex; these are winter visitors probably form Northern Europe, or the arctic.

The gadwall is a very grey-coloured dabbling duck, a little smaller than the mallard, and with an obvious black rear end. It shows a white wing patch in flight. When seen close up the grey colour is made up of exquisitely fine barring and speckling. It nests in low numbers in the UK and is an Amber List species UK breeding:1,200 summer nesting pairs; UK wintering:25,000 birds Gadwall Bird Facts | Anas Strepera - The RSPB

Shovelers and Teal


A Lapwing

A Little Egret (Pett Level)

A Cormorant and Lapwings

Canada Geese

Looking back to Cliff End


Great Crested Grebe

In the distance I saw what I thought was a Great White Egret; but it was hard to tell, as I couldn't see it's bill colour.

I saw a pair of Mallard closer to me, and tyring 180 degress there wwas a Tu

and turning 180 degrees there was a Turnstone on the beach

when I had walked a little closer to the Egret, I saw yellow bill. My provisional identification was conformed. It was a Great White Egret. It was at the far east of Pett Level, standing in a pool in the middle of the marshes which made it difficult to photograph. It was joined by two juvenile Mute Swans and some Mallards, with Romney Sheep behind it.

The two juvenile Mute Swans

Great White Egret

Great White Egret and the two juvenile Mute Swans (as above)

Stretching a wing!

and two Mallards and Herring Gull join the Great White Egret and the Swans

The Herring Gull spooked the Egret and it flew off

and then landed

Just to the west of the reserve is a playing field; where a Herring Gull did a worm catching dance; as they do

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve (Sussex Wildlife Trust)

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is one of my favourite nature sites in the UK; I visit it frequently. See Rye Harbour Nature Reserve 05.06.21: Black-headed Gull Chicks and a Spotted Redshank for photos of the flora and fauna of summer.

Looking out over the sea; the cold front and the band of heavy rain, forecast by the Met Office covered the reserve. The following photos were all taken in rain, of different heaviness, with very dark skies.

A Moorhen

A Magpie

The most westerly pools in the reserve

Wigeon (back) Herring Gull, a "farmyard duck" and a female Mallard

Lots of wigeon, and a Shoveler

Ruins of a seaside villa/

Rye Harbour Beach and derelict wooden groynes

Mary Stanford Lifeboat House.

Situated on a lonely stretch of the coastline of the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, two miles from the present RNLI Rye Harbour Lifeboat Station, is the derelict Mary Stanford Lifeboat House. Architecturally, the Mary Stanford Lifeboat House is a rare surviving example of a construction of the pre-1885 pioneering period of the use of concrete for building purposes. It may also be the only remaining example of a pre-1885 concrete lifeboat house. Decommissioned by the RNLI in 1928 it remains dear in the memory of Rye Harbour for what happened on 15 November 1928. On the morning of that day, the Mary Stanford Lifeboat was launched from this lifeboat house into the teeth of a gale described, at the time, as being the worst in living memory. The Mary Stanford Lifeboat was launched to rescue the crew of a vessel in difficulties off the coast of Dungeness. This unnecessary rescue attempt (as the crew of the stricken vessel had already been saved) was devastating, however, as it resulted in the deaths of all 17 crew on the Lifeboat; nearly the whole male fishing men of Rye Harbour. This was the single, largest loss of life from a single lifeboat and there were many "family" members among the crew; a father and two sons, three brothers and cousins. Sixteen crew members are buried in a communal grave in the churchyard of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Rye Harbour. The seventeenth body was never recovered. A visit to the Mary Stanford Lifeboat House can easily be combined with a view to the Mary Stanford Lifeboat Pebble Memorial (outside the present-day lifeboat station in Rye Harbour), the Mary Stanford Lifeboat Disaster Memorial (over the communal grave in the churchyard) and the Mary Stanford Lifeboat Disaster Memorial Window (in the Parish Church of St Thomas the Martyr in nearby Winchelsea). Geoff H. A derelict building with a poignant history - Mary Stanford Lifeboat House, Winchelsea Traveller Reviews - Tripadvisor

Carrion Crow dropping some form of shell fish to crack its shell.

The mouth of the River Rother near high tide

Carrion Crow with leucistic feathers


Common Gulls

Crab claw

Remains of a Cuttlefish

More Gulls

Little Grebe on the Ternery Pool

Cormorant on the Ternery Pool

Lapwing on the shingle next to the Ternery Pool

Wader Pool - Oystercatchers

Lapwings and Teal





Shelduck and Teal

As a result of the high tide and heavy rain, much of the reserve was flooded


This is probably the same Spoonbill I saw on 21.12.21, for photos see: A Spoonbill, a Goldeneye, Lapwings, Redshanks and Snipe. Rye Harbour. 21.12.21

At the end of the day, I walked back to the town of Rye along the path that runs parallel to the Rye Harbour road

Dunnocks on the path.

Dunnocks have the most interesting mating behaviour.

The dunnock indulges in virtually every mating strategy possible. More than one male can be paired with the same female, or a male can be paired with more than one female. And two or more males may be with two or more females at the same time. But there are also some puritan birds who adopt the seemingly boring practice of monogamy.

Confused? Well it is all a game of adapting to the circumstances and trying to successfully pass on one’s genes to the next generation – or as one naturalist so aptly described dunnock breeding behaviour, a case of ‘every man for himself’.

In the scenario of one female and two males, the hen dunnock plays a very clever strategy. She will mate with one male, but then when the other male comes along he will peck at her rear which causes her to eject the sperm from the first suitor, before he too then mates with her. What all this means is that the two males think they are the fathers and will both therefore help to feed the young in the nest, dramatically increasing the chances of the brood being successfully raised.

If all this is not enough, at the peak of the courting season dunnocks may mate with each other up to 100 times a day. Furthermore, all this is happening right beneath your neatly trimmed berberis and cotoneaster bushes. Ooh-er missus, time for a lie down, me thinks. Keith Broomfiled 19.12.17 The racy sex life of the dunnock – Keith Broomfield

Camber Castle to the west of the path

Camber Castle was one link in the chain of forts built along the south coast by Henry VIII. Highly symmetrical, built from Wealden and Sussex sandstone. By completion in 1544 the garrison strength was 29 men and had cost £16,000. It was abandoned in 1642 due to shingle build up and is a rare example of a Henrician fort surviving in its original plan. Now 2 miles from the sea. Camber Castle - Visit 1066 Country

Three Little Egrets at sunset


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